How Austin Meetings Tap Into Today’s Biggest Group Trends

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Keynote: Lady Gaga - 2014 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive
Lady Gaga gave a keynote presentation at South by Southwest this year.

Austin is one of those emerging U.S. destinations that always seems to have its finger on the pulse of what’s trending in urban livability, the cultural arts, food and entertainment, small business development, and innovation in all of its many forms.

In fact, the city’s annual South by Southwest (SXSW) event has pretty much become the standard bearer for the future of meeting design in the U.S. and beyond.

For other Austin meetings and events, the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau helps planners capitalize on all of the above by introducing them to the city’s business and cultural influencers, and a wide array of unique venues. We interviewed Shilpa Bakre, senior communications manager at the Austin CVB, for an update on how the city is helping drive today’s next generation meeting trends.

Prevue: What are the benefits for attendees when meeting and convention planners incorporate more unique venues and local experiences in the destination?

Shilpa Bakre: We’re finding more than ever, as part of the decision process to come to the city, planners want to know how they can provide unique offsite settings for productive networking for their attendees.

When planners incorporate more unique local venues and experiences, their attendees tend to have a much better, more authentic experience at the conference. Since content is more readily available in online formats, providing a localized experience as a backdrop for content provides attendees something they can’t get online.

For example, field trips to local businesses or universities provide attendees with the opportunity to learn directly from an industry expert, as well as offer potential hands-on experiences that make their event in the destination a memorable one. Utilizing unique, local and cultural venues also offers attendees the opportunity to combine personal goals of experiencing a particular destination with professional goal of networking and education.

Prevue: What are the challenges when incorporating more venues and experiences outside the convention center?

Bakre: Most groups have a finite budget for food and beverage spending, which impacts the overall pricing from convention centers and headquarter hotels. When an event that is typically catered at a convention center is pulled away to an offsite venue, that may increase pricing in rental or perhaps the total number of rooms in the hotel block offered.

We are fortunate in Austin that our Austin Convention Center catering team is able to provide offsite catering services at several iconic venues, which in some cases can benefit overall pricing.

Additionally the number of hotels within walking distance of the convention center allows for more flexibility in how planners piece together their overall block if they wish to use less rooms and more hotels in order to eliminate F&B minimums.

Prevue: How can convention organizers best increase engagement between visiting delegates and thought leaders in a destination, including pre/post?

Bakre: Meeting planners should work closely with the convention bureau’s convention services department. They can make the connections with universities and local companies, as well as ensuring that trips to authentic local venues are part of the overall conference itinerary.

Prevue: Are you seeing an increase in more disparate and interdisciplinary programming and speakers at large events?

Bakre: Austin is attracting more national conventions that certainly draw well known speakers from around the world. More event planners are looking outside their own industry silos to find ways to incorporate innovative ideas from very unrelated industries.

Prevue: How are you working with the local business community to develop and improve meeting industry product and infrastructure?

Bakre: Within the Austin CVB, there are committees that are involved in supporting various initiatives such as the visitor experience. We also work with what we call “visioning committees” that include members from business, government and hospitality that take a collaborative approach to discussing how to stay ahead of the curve.

We also rely on all of our hospitality partners, such as hotels, restaurants, venues, the airport, Texas Tourism, etc., to help ensure that we are all sharing in collaborative successes.

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